Do they own your whole life?

Just asking those who aren’t self-employed: just how much right do you think your employer should have to sack you based on political and other opinions you express online, in the circumstances where:

  • you are not using company time to write that material;
  • you are not revealing secret company information; and
  • you use a pseudonym, so there’s no risk whatsoever anyone could take what you say to be endorsed by your employer.

My view is that the answer is “none, no right whatsoever” – and I’m a pretty demanding boss to my sole employee. It would be a pretty nasty and arrogant organisation that would try to enforce its corporate views on its employees in their private lives; dismissing them for vigorous participation in political or other social debate (so long as they don’t breach the conditions above) should be, frankly, unlawful.

What next? Employers sacking you because of what you choose to do in your bedroom?*

*Apart from religious organisations that have already got an exemption from government to do just that, of course.

NOTE: This post is about the issue in general. It is not about any specific incidents, and any speculation about specific people will be deleted.

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34 responses to “Do they own your whole life?

  1. I concur. None, no right whatsoever.

  2. Seconded…..

    My boss likes to trade shares, I tell him I’m a communist (I like to exaggerate 😉 )He’s cool.. We respect each others right to hold totally different views. Having said that I work for a left leaning organisation but I’d still rate myself as one of the more radical employees, not radical in what I do but radical in my beliefs, relative to the rest of my colleagues.

  3. Blast Tyrant

    Thirded.

    In fact my situation is a very similar to Robs, except that I am a socialist.
    So far it hasn’t caused an issue and my bosses don’t seem to mind.

    Now I await some red-baiting from SB…

  4. Splatterbottom

    BT, it seems that it is you who are doing the baiting here.

    Socialists are not worth baiting. They are more to be pitied as pathetic creatures who glory in their intellectual disfigurement. Sadly, these recalcitrant reptiles are incapable of turning their gimlet eyes upon their own hideous perversions.

    Socialists need to cloak their insecurities with a label that trades the rational consideration of issues for the party line. This self-inflicted degradation atrophies their brains and shrivels their consciences, leaving a jabbering hollowed-out shell where a vibrant person once stood.

  5. shabadootwo

    Jeremy, I agree with you but I think you left out a dot point to the effect that one should not act detrimentally to one’s employer’s reputation or interest — I think that’s legitimate as well, and most contracts have clauses to that effect.

  6. So… someone employed by a big mining company can’t be involved in the ALP because the mining company might deem their involvement “detrimental to their corporate interest”?

    I think that’s far too broad. It is not an employer’s role to be telling you what you can and can’t do in your non-work life, provided that you’re not using your position as an employee to their detriment – spreading confidential material, or attacking fellow employees in your capacity as a fellow employee (which you wouldn’t be doing if you were anonymously criticising their public output, as any member of the public is entitled to do).

  7. SB, when pointing out that you’re being baited, it helps if you don’t immediately swallow the hook and start biting your way up the line.

  8. Splatterbottom

    Sadly the CSIRO has similar issues with allowing scientists to publish peer-reviewed papers if they conflict with government policy. Bastard employers like this need a good kicking.

    The CSIRO will lose further credibility with the appointment of a banker to its chair, even though he admits he has no scientific pedigree. His main qualification seems to be his climate-change fanatacism.

  9. Splatterbottom

    Keri, I didn’t want to disappoint BT. He was obviously looking for someone to put him to rights.

  10. Blast Tyrant

    ah good ol’ predictable SB.

    Does anybody really believe that without the last line of my last post SB would not have red-baited?

    And as for being put to rights, my god, I have now seen the light!

  11. [except that I am a socialist.]

    Me too, I just like telling others I’m a commie… Or in real life I sometimes troll 🙂

  12. If I saw on telly one of my employees in a right wing anti muslim demo, in armee boots, bomber jacket and Nazi flag, as a minimum he’d be the first to go should I feel the need to downsize.

  13. shabadootwo

    No, I don’t think that a mining company would have any moral or legal recourse to sack someone for joining the ALP or the Greens. However, if employee of XYZ Mining ran for office and alleged that XYZ was a really crap company, or that its claims of environmental sustainability were crap, or anything specific like that, then that would be a conflict.

    Likewise, if a legal employee wanted to keep a blog about legal issues, even contentious ones, that would be one thing. But if that morphed into blogging that their boss was a crummy lawyer who did not know the law, they’d be within their rights to sack him/her.

    [Minor edit made to make your comment general rather than relating to any specific people – Jeremy.]

  14. It depends on what the “other opinions” are and how that might impact on your employer. I don’t think that the fact you’ve done it under an alias makes it okay.

  15. It also depends upon the terms of your employment contract If you agree to a certain standard of behaviour in your private life then you effectively sack yourself if you breach that agreement. and Ray is right about using an alias being no licence to a behave badly because one day your name may well be known.

  16. I’m not bothered on a personal level, I’ve never been shy to share my opinions and I don’t think my opinions make me sack-able, after all my attendance at work is excellent (1 day sick in the last four years) my work ethic is sound, I’m productive and smart enough to overcome every single problem I’ve been presented with (even if I say so myself :o) )

    If my employer wanted to sack me for my lefty views, or for espousing those views here then I don’t think I’d want to work for them, ie I’d have left already. I realise that not everybody is fortunate enough to be in my position this is why I agree with the OP.

  17. Jeremy are you suggesting that Slander and Libel are OK if you use an alias so you won’t get caught?

  18. No – slander and libel are causes of action in a court.

    We’re talking about robust, lawful, non-litigable political speech that happens to annoy an employer.

    The issue with the alias isn’t “not being caught”, it’s that the person isn’t in any way purporting to represent the employer.

  19. Blast Tyrant

    I see modesty is your strong suit Rob 😉

    Juan, considering most workplaces have a pretty low tolerance of racial abuse I’m sure your hypothetical nazi employee would fuck up and say some racist shit on the job at some point anyway.

  20. confessions

    Remember that former AG from SA who tried to implement draconian laws in that state precluding political comments on blogs being made anonymously during election campaigns? I can see his point, but really, legislating against it is just ridiculous.

  21. Splatterbottom

    Confessions, I can’t even see his point.

  22. Jeremy

    We’re talking about robust, lawful, non-litigable political speech that happens to annoy an employer.

    Really? what if that “political speech” was consistently writing was disparaging other writers at say a newspaper where the employee worked? That disparagement may not have been bad enough to be considered libel but are you saying that an employer has no right to object?
    Would you support the notion that an employer has a right to ask the person in question to say delete their blog as a condition of their continued employment?

  23. Are we just talking about “robust, lawful, non-litigable political speech” or are “other opinions & social debate” still in it? You seem to have narrowed it down from your original O.P.

  24. “That disparagement may not have been bad enough to be considered libel but are you saying that an employer has no right to object?”

    Yes. Provided that the person was not representing themselves in that context as being associated with that company, and they weren’t revealing company secrets.

    “Would you support the notion that an employer has a right to ask the person in question to say delete their blog as a condition of their continued employment?”

    No.

    “Are we just talking about “robust, lawful, non-litigable political speech” or are “other opinions & social debate” still in it? You seem to have narrowed it down from your original O.P.”

    Both – they’re not contradictory, given the exceptions mentioned in the original post.

  25. Jeremy

    Yes. Provided that the person was not representing themselves in that context as being associated with that company, and they weren’t revealing company secrets.

    Sorry but that does not follow a person may well not be “representing themselves” as anything in particular with relation to the company but they certainly could be perceived to be doing so even it they did not intent to do so and in the real world how things seems to be is often what counts.

    If a public servant has a distinct “do not Publish anything” clause in their employment contract should they be sacked if they write a blog under a Pseudonym and the employer finds out about it?

  26. Well I see a clear distinction between expressing political opinion and “other opinions & social debate” in these circumstances.

    I agree that an employer has no right to sack you, or even reprimand you, for expressing vigorous political opinion outside your employment. I think that’s one area you can certainly have a blanket rule on as you suggest. I guess you could throw religion into that too.

    But the terms “other opinions” & “social debate” are surely too wide & vague to draw any firm guidelines or rules over.

    Surely there would be instances where an employer might rightfully contend that such behaviour does bring them into disrepute – with or without the use of an alias (I’m still not sure why you think that using an alias makes it okay).

  27. I can see a situation where somebody is well known to be associated with a company, and therefore what they write under their own name reflects on that company. In those instances, I can see that the company has an interest in expecting them to make their private contributions on contentious issues under another name.

    That’s the only reason the alias thing is relevant. The default position should be that a person is entitled to say whatever they like as private people (within the law) provided that it doesn’t breach a company’s right to
    – have confidential information stay confidential
    and
    – not look like it’s behind those representations.

    And Iain – no-one should have a clause in their contracts that prevents them participating in political life in this country as private citizens, with the necessary exceptions I’ve mentioned above.

    PS People can’t be “perceived” as representing a company if they use a pseudonym and never mention their association with that company.

  28. So Jeremy, it doesn’t matter what the “other opinions & social debate” are about and how reprehensible & repugnant they might be as long as (a) it doesn’t divulge company secrets etc, (b) it’s not breaking a law and (c) it’s done under an alias?

    What if it’s highly critical and/or derogatory comment about the employer and/or other employees? Is that still okay if you use an alias? What if the employer discovers such behaviour?

    You see, I think you can’t blanket rule on this and it has to be case-by-case.

  29. Jeremy

    I can see a situation where somebody is well known to be associated with a company, and therefore what they write under their own name reflects on that company. In those instances, I can see that the company has an interest in expecting them to make their private contributions on contentious issues under another name.

    In this day and age in the era of the search engine surely you jest to suggest that someone has to be “well known” for what they say to be significant? But what you say on the INTERNET is not by any stretch of the imagination private. What you are arguing here is the complete opposite to what you were saying about Catherine Sheehan, Where you were insisting that in a piece that was not purporting to be the opinion of the Catholic Archdiocese that she must have been speaking on their behalf.

    That’s the only reason the alias thing is relevant. The default position should be that a person is entitled to say whatever they like as private people provided that it doesn’t breach a company’s right to
    – have confidential information stay confidential
    and
    – not look like it’s behind those representations.

    What Ray was saying about “bringing the company into disrepute” chimes in here as far as I can see. What if the person in question was rather foul mouthed in these hypothetical Internet musings? And the company prided its self on having a certain standard of decorum?

    And Iain – no-one should have a clause in their contracts that prevents them participating in political life in this country as private citizens, with the necessary exceptions I’ve mentioned above.

    Don’t you remember a certain public servant getting upset because he had just such a clause in his employment contract and he feared being named and subsequently sacked?

    PS People can’t be “perceived” as representing a company if they use a pseudonym and never mention their association with that company.

    That is a nonsense Jeremy because we both know that no one can be guaranteed that they anonymity will last forever and when your name becomes known and associated with what you have previously written the shit may well hit the fan.

  30. “So Jeremy, it doesn’t matter what the “other opinions & social debate” are about and how reprehensible & repugnant they might be as long as (a) it doesn’t divulge company secrets etc, (b) it’s not breaking a law and (c) it’s done under an alias?”

    Correct.

    “What if it’s highly critical and/or derogatory comment about the employer and/or other employees? Is that still okay if you use an alias? What if the employer discovers such behaviour?”

    They should have to wear it. Any citizen can be highly critical about any company they like, or any public figure. It’s not grounds to sack them.

    “But what you say on the INTERNET is not by any stretch of the imagination private.”

    I meant “private” as opposed to in someone’s work life. “Personal” or “individual”, if you like.

    “What you are arguing here is the complete opposite to what you were saying about Catherine Sheehan, Where you were insisting that in a piece that was not purporting to be the opinion of the Catholic Archdiocese that she must have been speaking on their behalf. “

    She used her name and referred to her position at the Catholic Archdiocese – it beggars belief to suggest that she wasn’t doing it on behalf of the organisation.

    “Don’t you remember a certain public servant getting upset because he had just such a clause in his employment contract and he feared being named and subsequently sacked?”

    No. But I don’t see why people in sensitive employment should be outed for daring to express personal political views. Certain professions are unfortunately full of organisations who would sack someone for daring to express a particular political view: this sort of bullying by employers should not be lawful.

    Obviously, at present, people do lose their jobs in such circumstances. Those who would try to “out” someone just to punish them for daring to have a different political opinion should be ashamed of themselves.

  31. Um, Jeremy, it might help if you identified who it was you are responding to and whose quote is whose, instead of mixing them all up in one response. You know, like including the person’s name!

  32. “They should have to wear it. Any citizen can be highly critical about any company they like, or any public figure. It’s not grounds to sack them.”

    Jeremy, I said “What if it’s highly critical and/or derogatory comment about the employer and/or other employees?”

    This is not just “any company”, and the other employees are not “public figures”.

  33. I think employers sanctioning people because of the comments they make on the Internet in their own time is pretty Orwellian. Kind of reminds me of Henry Ford’s ‘secret police’ who used to make sure the employees on his production lines weren’t drinking and gambling.

    Also, a nasty side effect is that it creates a sub-genus of bloggers who make it their business to run to employers and report questionable comments (such as the one obvious example commenting in this thread.)

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